As anyone who has been around rabbits for more than half an hour knows, our furry little friends are extremely effecient at filling their main ecological niche: turning plants into fertilizer.
But we love them anyway. That’s why it can be so frustrating trying to litterbox train them. Litterbox training a rabbit is a process mostly unique from what other pet owners go through, in some ways easier and in some ways harder.
Easier, because rabbits are weirdly OCD. Once they start doing something a certain way, they keep doing it that way. So the trick is to get them to do want you want.
And it’s harder, because getting a rabbit to do what you want is completely impossible.
So how do you do it? Honestly I’m still not sure. I’ll share what I read, and what I attempted, but in the end, I’m convinced my rabbit just ended up litterbox training himself.
The first thing I unpacked when I moved to Albuquerque was my new bunny friend, Ellis Jose Francisco. I let him out of his icky cage that smelled like a three-day road trip, deciding then and there that I never wanted to put him back in it. Since I hadn’t exactly told management that I was going to have a small animal running around the house all day, I decided to keep him out of sight in my bedroom. Plus, I was lonely.
I put down a little rug, on which I placed his litterbox, some hay, and a water dish.
He promptly peed in the corner. So, having remembered that the litterbox should usually just go where the rabbit likes to go, I cleaned the pee and placed the box directly on top of the soapy spot.
He peed in box. All was good! Until I wasn’t looking. Then he peed in the other corner.
Not having two litterboxes for him, I cleaned it up and hoped for the best. That didn’t work out too well.
You see, rabbits are very territorial. They mark exactly where they think their home is. And there’s no mistaking it once they do. Fortunately, I had modern veterinary medicine on my side and he was nuetered. (As every adopted rabbit should be!) This not only made him less hormonally inclined to pee everywhere, but it made his pee smell better, too. Relatively.
I realized that after having free run of my room, he’d decided it was, in fact, his room.
I should explain that at this time, I also came down with a nasty sinus infection. I was barely capable of driving to Target to buy Puffs, much less developing a litterbox strategy. Little Ellis Jose peed wherever he wanted, including on my bed, (fortunately I was sleeping on an air mattress, which only required a sheet change and brief scrub with an eco-friendly cleaning wipe,) and all I could do was cough negatively at him.
As a side note, please don’t tell my building management this story. That would be bad for me.
While stuffing my only bottom sheet into the washing machine for the third time in two days, I glanced down at the cage. I’d stashed it in the laundry room until I figured out which key opened the outside storage closet. (Turns out, none of them open it! I’m still waiting for that one.) Since I couldn’t smell anything anyway, I momentarily convinced myself it was fine, and brought it into the bedroom. The litterbox went inside. It was a terrible arrangement, however, and I ended up putting everything and the rabbit on a mat in the laundry room.
This actually worked really well. Since my laundry room has laminate floors that are impossible for furry little bunny feet to gain traction on, Ellis Jose stayed entirely on the mat. I opened the cage door so he could come and go (so to speak) as he pleased. He consistently peed in the litterbox, and almost solely pooped in it so long as I kept it clean.
But just to be safe, I resorted to the one thing I always dread resorting to: Instructions.
That’s right, when you adopt a bunny from SaveABunny, you get an instruction booklet. At least I did. I think it’s $2 extra, but if Marcy has anything to do with it, you’ll end up with one whether you asked or not.
Just as I’d hoped, there were two pages about litterbox training in there. Since a) it’s an entire two pages, and b) you should really put down the two bucks for a copy, I won’t recount everything I read in there. But I’ll share what was most valuable to my experience:
1. Your rabbit needs a place that’s just his. (An icky, road-trip-smellin’ carrier cage does the trick in a pinch – just, uh, try to clean it first. And DON’T put faux-sheepskin liner mats in the washing machine. It won’t be pretty. Trust me.) In order to make your rabbit feel like the place is just his, it’s essential that you not force him in or out of it. If he’s not already terrified of the place, it’s pretty easy to herd him into it. Do that if you need to. I just leave the cage door open with a tiny mat clipped to it, and it makes a nice ramp. He goes in there when he’s mad, scared, bored, or (yay!) has to pee.
2. Keeping some hay in the litterbox seems to help.
3. Be patient. I can’t tell you how to do this. I failed. But I’m sure things will work out better if you can pull it off.
4. Keep the litterbox clean. Seriously. I change it almost every day but it’s extremely worth it. It’s good for about two or three pees and then he stops using it.
The laundry room situation lasted about five days. I ended up feeling bad for him because the mat he had was so small, and he couldn’t get any sunlight (which, I don’t know about him, but is very important for my mental health,) and he looked really bored all the time. I gave him two paper bags to play with (more on those in a future blog), and I laid down a table cloth for him to get across the kitchen to the living room where he could run around, but he stopped using it after the first time and refused to leave his tiny mat. I had to find a better way.
On my first day at my new job, I found a giant stack of carpet tile scraps. If you’re not familiar with this seeming oxymoron, a carpet tile is a rubber tile, in regular tile size and shape, with carpet on one side. Carpet = traction. Rubber = pee-proof.
I made off with half of them. The receptionist gave me a funny look on my way out the door, but I had a plan! Sort of.
After trying many positions and layouts and many variations on those positions and layouts, I ended up with a carpet-tiled area in the living room, under a window, with ample room for the cage carrier in the corner, chew toys, paper bags, hay, a water dish, and even a little bit of hopping around. The plan was to get an x-pen to put around the area, but by the time I was finished with my creation, the pet store was closed, so, with high hopes but low expectations, I just let Ellis Jose run free in the living room for the time being. It’s not like I had any furniture yet anyway. I had one lamp, but the cord and plug were strategically hidden behind two boxes. And I had plenty of eco-friendly all-purpose cleaner.
After some momentary confusion, Ellis Jose became a very happy bunny. He now had the entire living room to run around in! And because he was happy, and he hadn’t peed on the floor yet, I was happy too.
I let him run free while I was gone the next day at work, thinking I would stop at PetSmart for an X-pen on the way home. I forgot, of course. But when I got home, my carpet was happily pee-free. He had somehow become litterbox trained.
I ended up buying an x-pen anyway for when the washing machine repair person gets here. I haven’t used it yet – which is both good and bad.
So take what you will from my story, if you managed to find anything worthwhile. Every bunny is different, so if you find something else that works, by all means go with it. And share, please!
Or if all else fails, read the instructions.